WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

Looking Ahead

Repealing Civil Rights Law 50-a

Civil Rights Law 50-a has been around since 1976. It’s initial purpose was to prevent criminal defense lawyers from using “unverified and unsubstantiated” civilian complaints against officers testifying as witnesses in court. Over the years, the law has been interpreted more broadly, especially under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio. For example, the New York Police Union recently asserted that footage from police body worn cameras should also be protected by Section 50-a.

The law now gives officers a blanket shield from public disclosure or accountability and unfairly puts the burden on the community to expose abuses and push for accountability. Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, told the New York Times,

“It took years, but now you have what essentially is the ‘blue wall of silence’ that has been codified by 50-a.”

Public interest in repealing the law has grown over the last few years. High profile cases, like the police killing of Eric Garner and aggressive arrest of tennis star James Blake – both captured on video – have shed light on the challenges this law presents to lawyers, journalists and advocates working to secure justice.

Eyewitness video is key in exposing and corroborating incidents of misconduct, but greater transparency is critical in the fight for truth and accountability. WITNESS is joining local advocates like the NYCLU, Legal Aid Society and the New York City Bar Association and to call for New York State to repeal Section 50-a. Learn more about how you can take action here.

Exploring Sustainable Solutions

Across the U.S., activists, researchers and journalists are working to make police data more accessible and transparent. There are a handful of crowdsourced databases and projects that track police killings, misconduct, complaints, etc., but few of them collect or analyze video.

This project aims to support the creation of flexible, interactive, sustainable and secure platforms that enable distributed video submission as well as new models for contextualizing video for impact storytelling. 

While there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution to these issues, we think there are some shared values and basic practices that can help manage collections of human rights videos as safely and ethically as possible. For example, if groups documenting police abuse across the U.S. used similar data models and collection processes, this would make the data easier to share across groups and lead to more robust datasets.

WITNESS is working with groups like Berkeley Copwatch to test our learnings and the tools we created for this project with El Grito, and hope to continue this process with others. We are also working with data scientists, journalists, archivists, lawyers and activists around the world to further discuss these values and document, test and create innovative solutions. 

Get in touch if you’d like to share your thoughts or feedback. 

Basic Practices & Shared Values We’re Working Towards
META DATA STANDARDS

Developing community metadata standards, such as a metadata schema and thesauri, would help make info collected about videos of police abuse easier to use in advocacy and reporting.

video storage & access

Finding secure, affordable storage solutions is key to maintaining a sustainable archive.

ethics

Thinking through issues like consent, security, and privacy is essential for ensuring an ethical human rights video project.

COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION

Working directly with community members provides key details and background about the videos and fosters interest and energy around preserving local history.

coalition

Building collaborations with stakeholders like lawyers, journalists or advocacy groups can help collections remain sustainable and better serve the needs of those fighting for justice.

Other Projects Tracking Police Abuse

These reports and advocacy campaigns provide in-depth information about the issues within our police departments and criminal justice system. 

COALITION TO END BROKEN WINDOWS

An alliance of over a dozen grassroots community organizations from across NYC committed to ending the unfair criminalization of poor communities of color by Broken Windows policing.

BLUES LIES MATTER

Buzzfeed News investigated 62 incidents of police misconduct where video documentation contradicted police reports or officer testimony.

COP ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT

A curated database of officers with a history of misconduct that supports attorneys in building stronger cases for their clients.

DATA TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE

A searchable database compiled by NYC’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. The site includes data on complaints, allegations, victims and alleged victims and members of service.

HUMAN RIGHTS DATA ANALYSIS GROUP

A non-profit, non-partisan organization that applies rigorous science to the analysis of human rights violations around the world, including a project on policing in the U.S.

EXPOSE THE QUOTA

An in-depth report on how the NYPD’s 42nd Precinct, The Bronx D.A.’s office and the City of NYC conspired to destroy Black and Brown Lives, by journalist Shaun King.

INVISIBLE INSTITUTE

A journalistic production company on the South Side of Chicago whose mission is to enhance the capacity of citizens to hold public institutions accountable.

MAPPING POLICE VIOLENCE

 A research collaborative collecting comprehensive data on police killings nationwide to quantify the impact of police violence in communities.

CAMPAIGN ZERO

A data-informed platform that presents comprehensive solutions to end police violence in the U.S.  Developed with contributions from activists, protesters and researchers across the nation.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA

WITNESS’ Media Lab reviews the role of video in attaining accountability for police abuse, and offers guidance for advocates and journalists interested in using video for change.

TAKING COVER

A 2017 NYCLU report on how New York Police Departments resist transparency.

OPEN OVERSIGHT

A Lucy Parsons Lab project to improve police accountability using public and crowdsourced data.

KILLED BY POLICE

Crowdsourced database on police killings across the U.S., dating back to 2013.

OPEN POLICE COMPLAINTS

An open-source platform that helps victims of police abuse create, save, and share digital police complaints.

THE PROBLEMATIC

A curated platform of L.A. Sheriff’s Deputies involved in serious misconduct compiled by Dignity and Power Now.